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In Belgium, an elected nationalist sentenced to eight years in prison for trafficking humanitarian visas

Melikan Kucam, a municipal politician from the nationalist Alliance néoflamande (N-VA) party, was sentenced on Tuesday January 12 to eight years in detention by the Antwerp court for having provided, in return for payment, humanitarian visas to 246 Christians from Syria eager to win Belgium.

Arrested in January 2019 and indicted for corruption, fraud and trafficking in human beings, the accused was responsible for establishing the lists of potential beneficiaries of the right to asylum on behalf of the office of the Secretary of State for Migration, Theo Francken (N-VA), where he was employed.

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To include their name on the list, Melikan Kucam demanded families from 2,000 euros to 7,500 euros per person, while a normal procedure for obtaining a humanitarian visa costs, in Belgium, some 350 euros. The operation, carried out in collusion with his son and his wife, sentenced to forty-eight and forty months of detention respectively – would have brought in a total of 522,000 euros. If the Syrians – mostly of Assyrian origin, like the Kucam family – refused to pay, they were threatened with deportation to their warring country.

An embarrassing conviction

The case, discovered somewhat by chance, during an investigation into drug trafficking, illustrated the shortcomings of the policy for granting humanitarian visas and the lack of control exercised by the Immigration Office, which is yet flatters with great rigor. The preponderant role of Mr. Kucam in the cabinet of the Secretary of State and the fact that Mr. Francken presented him as “A great guy” no doubt explain the leniency of officials.

The Secretary of State, who expressed his sympathies for Donald Trump, was a supporter of a very tough immigration policy. He was also one of the resolute opponents of the Marrakesh Pact, whose adoption by Belgium led to his departure, and that of his party, from the government of Charles Michel, in December 2018.

Questioned Wednesday morning, the former secretary of state Theo Frencken affirmed that he carried the “political responsibility” of the file

The conviction of his ex-collaborator, a decision he says he applauds today, is all the more embarrassing for Theo Francken as a hundred people welcomed in Belgium have not finally submitted asylum requests. Some have done so in neighboring countries, others have disappeared from radar.

At the time, the American administration itself was alarmed: the United States embassy had expressed fears for security because Belgium was one of the countries whose citizens do not have to apply for a visa. to enter the United States. Washington therefore feared that Syrians benefiting from humanitarian visas would enter its territory. In reality, the visa waiver does not apply to foreigners living in Belgium, which allowed Mr Francken to claim that his successors in power had mounted a plot to discredit him.

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